pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Others Will Be Drawn

Reading: Luke 1: 68-79

Verse 76: “And you, my child… will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him.”

Photo credit: Shane

Today we continue in Zechariah’s song, turning to the role that John plays. While on duty in the temple Zechariah is visited by the angel Gabriel. The angel tells of John’s birth and of the role he will play. In verse seventeen we read, “He will go before the Lord… to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Upon John’s birth Zechariah shares this in his song. In verse 76 we read, “And you, my child… will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him.” John the Baptist will serve faithfully, speaking God’s truths, drawing them back towards God. John preached about the forgiveness of sins and offered a baptism of repentance, a symbolic cleansing to the Jews. John lived a life of service, helping people to prepare their hearts for the time when they would meet Jesus. This too is our call.

In one of the devotionals that I read there is this great line from Linda Furtado: “Part of being people after God’s desires is choosing to serve as the presence others need, stretching ourselves to love in ways that reflect God’s love.” We begin by knowing God’s desires. Primary among them is God’s desire to have a saving relationship with all people. We must them choose to be God’s loving presence to others. Sometimes this is being like John – calling others to a holier life, speaking hard truths. Sometimes this is coming alongside another in their time of need. Often God will call us to stretch ourselves, to get out of our comfort zones. If we are willing, the Holy Spirit will lead us to people, to places, and into situations that stretch us. It is there that we rely more deeply on God’s Holy Spirit presence within us. Once there we are called to love others as God loves us. When we live out our faith in these ways, others will be drawn towards the Savior of the world. Doing so we live into the words of Zechariah: “And you, my child… will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him.” Hear these words today, spoken over you by the Lord our God. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, above all you are love. Lead me out beyond myself, having eyes to see needs and a heart to respond. In and through me may others know of your love for them. Amen.


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Closer to our Redemption

Reading: Luke 21: 25-28

Verse 28: “Stand up and lift your heads because your redemption is drawing near.”

Photo credit: Felipe Correia

As the early Christians read Luke’s gospel, as they read these words of Jesus, they were living in difficult times. Persecution had ramped up and most believers lived in fear. Many were being jailed and some were even being killed for their faith in Jesus Christ. They looked forward to the second coming, which they thought was imminent. As they see these signs that Jesus spoke of starting to unfold, they are hopeful. What is bad news for the world – nations in anguish, men fainting in terror – is good news for the believers. As they read “at that time…” many thought the time of persecution was drawing to a close. To those finding hope, Jesus says, “Stand up and lift your heads because your redemption is drawing near.” These words of Jesus give hope, build courage, and empower the faithful.

The promise that redemption draws near continues to be true. Just as the early followers learned as they lived out their faith, so too do we learn as we live out our faith: when we stand up for our faith, when we raise our heads and voices for justice, equality, goodness… then Jesus draws near. When we walk with and at times uplift the needy, the broken, the marginalized, the powerless, then we are drawing close and walking hand in hand with the one who redeems us.

These words of Jesus call us to remain faithful, to walk in faith no matter what goes on around us or in the world, to stand up and speak truth, and to cling to our Lord and Savior in times of trouble. Our redeemer is steadfast and true. He is ever faithful and present. Yes, one day Jesus will come in “a cloud with power and glory.” One day Christ will return to reign forevermore. Each day may we walk in faith, drawing closer to our redemption day by day.

Prayer: Lord God, whether it be a day or many years, walk with me, shaping me more and more into who you call me to be. Daily walk with me, filling me with your love and power and strength. Until the day of my redemption, lead and guide me. Amen.


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New Day by Day

Reading: Hebrews 10: 11-18

Verse 14: “By one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”

Jesus, our great high priest, is forever for all who love him and believe in his name. Jesus has the power to save. Unlike earthly priests who performed their duties day after day, Christ “by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” There is a now and not yet to this statement.

One day we will be made perfect. One day we will leave this earth and be transformed into our final new creation. As we enter into Jesus’ eternal presence we will become like he is. There will be no sin, no injustice, no violence, no evil in heaven. Not only will we be made perfect, our eternal home will be perfect.

In this life, though, we are far from perfect. Sin seems a constant part of our life. Many times a day we must call on the mercy and grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ. Through his sacrifice we can be made new again in this life too. This process works in us to draw us closer and closer to Jesus Christ, closer and closer to living in his image in this time and place. As this process works in us we live with Jesus’ example in our hearts and in our minds.

These two processes work together. Being forgiven now leads us to express our gratitude in loving God and loving neighbor more and more. As we are shaped, refined, transformed, we live more and more as the image of Christ, becoming more and more what we will one day become. Through God’s love we are made new day by day. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for ever being at work in us. Your love ever draws us closer and closer. Amen.


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Earnest Prayer

Reading: James 5: 17-20

Verse 20: “He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.”

Photo credit: Yusuf Evli

Today as we continue in James 5 we receive two examples of the power of prayer. The first comes from Elijah’s ministry. We read, “He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.” The prophet saw the great evils being done by King Ahab and he brought these words as a warning against this behavior and as a testimony to the power of God. This earnest prayer sought to turn Ahab and Israel away from idol worship and other evil practices. It was an honest and sincere plea to bring the people back to God. We too are called to lift such prayers. We too are called to pray prayers that bring others back to God.

This is what the second half of our passage calls us to. It turns Elijah’s prayer focus personal. James tells us that if we see a brother or sister in Christ drift, wander, fall away, sin… then we should “bring him [or her] back.” We do so by praying earnest prayers over this person and by lovingly reminding him or her of the power of God. We are told that by doing so we will “save him [or her] from death.” This saving is from a spiritual death, not necessarily a physical one. The act of returning to Christ will bring forgiveness and will “cover a multitude of sins” as that person is restored to a right relationship with our Lord and Savior.

The severe famine that resulted from Elijah’s earnest prayer leads to a showdown and the destruction of the prophets of two pagan gods (1 Kings 18). The people of Israel see God’s power and repent and turn back to God. Then rain falls on the land, revealing God’s love and mercy. When those we pray for and minister to see the power of God again, repent, and turn back to God, a healing rain washes away their sin and restored them too. As people of earnest prayer may we ever seek to draw others near to God, building the kingdom of God as we do.

Prayer: God of heaven and earth, give us the courage and conviction to speak truth into the lives of others and give us the humility and obedience to hear truth when spoken into our lives. May we be the iron that sharpens one another. May we be the love that draws others to you. Amen.


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The Way

Reading: Psalm 1

Verse 6: “For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”

Photo credit: Niko Photos

Our week begins with Psalm 1 – a look at living a life that is righteous or living a life that is wicked. In the Psalm it feels like an either/or choice. In reality, though, this Psalm represents our both/and. We desire to “meditate day and night” on the word of God, but we are at times like “chaff” – blown this way and that way by the cares of the world.

For the psalmist, the one who is blessed does not listen to the counsel of wicked and avoids the ways of sinners and mockers. Instead, the one who is blessed seeks God’s counsel. Doing so, the righteous are like trees planted by streams. The waters of God’s word nourishes the soul as roots are sunk deep into God’s ways. This nourishment then produces good fruit, spreading God’s ways. In contrast, the wicked do not have this foundation. The wicked are blown this way and that, pursuing the shifting ways of the world. The outcome of these choices is stated in verse six: “For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”

We all want to be righteous, to stand on the right side of the line come judgment time. We all want to be seen as a tree, standing firm in our faith, making new disciples as the fruit we bear. But at times the counsel of the world steals into our ears and minds, influencing us, tempting us. We can be drawn into the “way of sinners.” Maybe this is ‘just’ joining the gossip circle or maybe this is unethical business practices that allow us to keep up with the Joneses. It is not always easy to navigate the Jesus way because the world 🌍 offers lots of off ramps. Being human, once in a while we take them.

Yet the promise remains: “the Lord watches over the way of the righteous.” When we stray, when we stumble, God provides a way, drawing us back into right relationship. This too is a choice. At this intersection may we choose to delight in the way of the Lord. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord, I so desire to be the tree, rooted in your love and in your ways. Some days, though, I am more like a leaf, tossed about in the wind. On these days, Lord, draw me back in by the gentle whisper of your Holy Spirit. Guide me back home to you. Amen.


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Steadfast Forever

Reading: Psalm 111

Verse 7: “The works of God’s hands are faithful and just; all of God’s precepts are trustworthy”.

Psalm 111 begins with praise to God. The psalmist praises God for the great works and glorious and majestic deeds done for the people Israel. As followers of the Lord we too can praise God for the ways in which God has worked in our lives. The psalmist celebrates the manna in the desert and the victories over their enemies. For the Israelites, these are examples of God living into the covenants. As believers we can recall times when God has provided needed food or other resources at just the right time. We can remember those experiences when God has led us or even carried us through a time of trial. We too have come to know how faithful God is to those who love God.

Verse seven connects the ‘why’ we praise God with the ‘how to’ of knowing this God. Here we read, “The works of God’s hands are faithful and just; all of God’s precepts are trustworthy”. In the Israelite world there was a perceived connection between obedience to God and being blessed by God. As Christians we believe that God is trustworthy, steadfast, faithful, and upright. We believe that God provided redemption for us through his son Jesus Christ. We too live with fear (or reverence) of God and seek to be obedient to God’s will and ways. Yes, to God belongs eternal praise! But as Christians we do not see an illness or a difficult loss or diagnosis as evidence of our unfaithfulness. We do not connect conflict at work or at school as a sign of a lack of faith. Instead of these trials being evidence of sin or other failings in our faith, we recognize them as opportunities to draw closer to God, to rely more on God’s strength or peace or guidance or comfort or… Jesus promises to be with us always, to never leave or forsake us, assuring us that we will never be alone. God is steadfast forever. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Loving and faithful God, in the good days and in the bad days, you have always been there. You are there in the ordinary and in the routine. Thank you for being with me in all things. You are an amazing and wonderful God! Amen.


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Bread of Life

Reading: John 6: 41-51

Verse 47: “I tell you the truth he who believes has everlasting life”.

Photo credit: Pablo Heimplatz

As Jesus explains who he is and what he offers to those who believe in him as the Messiah some in the crowd doubt. They cannot see past what they know – “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph”? How can he be born of God – came down from heaven – if we know his parents? With words alone Jesus cannot convince them of who he is and what he offers.

Jesus goes on to explain that no one comes to believe in him unless drawn to him by God. Quoting from Psalm 78 Jesus reminds them that those who listen to the father come to learn and then are drawn to Jesus. When I consider my faith journey I see the truth of Jesus’ words. He is talking about and inviting his audience and us into a personal relationship. Just reading the Bible or even talking to other Christians does not make us have faith. Most often this learning is the start of our journey of faith but the “knowledge” must move from head to heart. The working of God alone – sometimes in big steps but most often in tiny steps – leads us to accept the truth that Jesus speaks: “he who believes has everlasting life”. As we draw near and worship the bread of life today may we seek to deepen our relationship with the Lord.

Prayer: Lord, draw me in deeper today. Connect me to you in a personal and meaningful way as I worship today. Amen.


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Good and Evil

Reading: Psalm 14

Verse 5: “God is present in the company of the righteous”.

Photo credit: Tech Nick

Today’s Psalm is attributed to David. It speaks of the evil and corruption in the world. They seem to be in control. Yet over and throughout it all is God. Connecting to yesterday’s passage from 2nd Samuel 11, could David be reflecting upon his own behavior as he writes these words? In his secret heart could he be hoping that God is with Bathsheba?

The Psalm opens recognizing that the fool says, “There is no God”. The fool says I can do whatever I want – I am god! The fool is corrupt and vile. Didn’t someone ask if that wasn’t Uriah’s wife? In verse four David acknowledges that evildoers “devour” God’s people “as men eat bread”. Sexual appetites can certainly devour others like common food. A most powerful man can have his way and then dismiss his victim like she was a common peasant.

And yet David knows in his heart of hearts that God is bigger than the evil of the world and the evil inside of him. In verses five and six he writes, “God is present in the company of the righteous” and “the Lord is their refuge”. Even though evil has been done, David hopes that God is present to and comforting Bathsheba. Yes, the Lord draws near to all who are abused and oppressed, to all who endure injustice and violence.

The part of David still connected to God can still long for salvation to come to Israel. He can still long for a better world even though his ‘secret’ actions work against it. I too have been here before – doing wrong in the present yet still hoping for God to make me right in the end. Even then God is our ever present refuge. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, I must admit that I, like David, am never too far from sin. The fleshy part of me is ever seeking glory or power or possessions. Yet the divine within me is always drawn to you. Thank you for the Spirit within. Raise up that voice in my heart, O Lord. Amen.


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The Vine

Reading: John 15: 1-8

Verse 5: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit”.

Photo credit: Rohit Tandon

Jesus begins John 15 with a familiar analogy. Vineyards were common in Israel – a good topic to use to describe the connection between disciples and the divine. In the first verse Jesus establishes himself as the vine and God as the one who tends the vine. You and I are branches.

Over the years, on my walk of faith, I have found it very important for me to stay closely connected to Jesus. Has this been true for you? When I am faithful about my personal disciplines – early morning prayer, reading and study, reflection, journaling – then my daily life is better aligned with Jesus’ mission. In those seasons when I am just going through the motions, my connection weakens and my faith begins to get dry and stale. Challenges and difficulties arise during both seasons. Working through these with Jesus is much different than going it on my own. Has this been your experience too?

A grape vine, like all living organisms, is either growing or it is dying. Seeing the leaves and then the grapes appear and mature is easy. Noticing the vine growth is not so noticeable. Left unchecked a vine will grow and grow. If left on its own, the vine growth will decrease fruit production. This reminds me of something that I must guard against. In ministry it can be easy to say ‘yes’ to many things. I’m active and am a doer, so this is my natural tendency. I want to try new things, to offer more opportunities, to just keep adding. Because of this tendency, I am thankful for the gardener. At times God prunes me. The Holy Spirit reveals a busyness that can be let go. A fellow Christian questions my latest, greatest idea or impulse. A colleague in ministry helps me to return to the focus of my calling. Each of these persons reminds me of the truth of verse five: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit”. To bear fruit you and I must remain closely connected to Jesus Christ, the source of our faith and love. May it ever be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Loving God, day by day, draw me to you. Fill me each mourning, nourishing me for the day ahead. Guard my heart and mind, leading me to walk the path you purpose for me. Connected to your son, may we bear much fruit. Amen.


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The True Kingdom

Reading: John 10: 16-18

Verse 17: “The reason my father loves me is that I lay down my life”.

We turn to John 10 for a second day in a row. Yesterday we were drawn to consider the present reality of God’s kingdom here on earth and to consider how we are each working to include others in said kingdom. Today we focus in on the how and the who of our task to draw others into the kingdom of God.

For Jesus, the how was laying down his life. Jesus did this literally, going to the cross to defeat the power of sin and then to and out of the grave to defeat the power of death. This obedient, sacrificial action reflects both Jesus’ love for God and for us. In turn, it draws God’s love and our love too. While we may not go as far as Jesus did with our obedient and sacrificial actions, we can certainly expect to be called upon to pay a cost as we seek to share the love of God with others. It may be financial, physical, emotional, relational. The ‘how’ will almost always involve giving something for or to the other. While this is often difficult, the real ‘who’ is harder.

When we consider Jesus’ ‘who’, is general they were Jews. The people Jesus spoke with and ministered to were often much like Jesus himself. This too is our general mission field – those we work with, associate with, maybe go to school with. Jesus also welcomed and engaged those from the edges and fringes – those society and formal religion rejected or avoided. Herein lies our real challenge. We like the neat and ordered, the understandable and routine. Our churches like these things too. But for the kingdom of God to be fully revealed, it must reflect our actual communities, in all of their beautiful diversity. To realize this we must be willing to engage and welcome those outside of our normal circles. We must be willing to be uncomfortable and unsure of the places and people we seek to connect with – only in these thin spaces will we really rely on the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us. Only then will the margins and fringes be wiped away by the love of God, opening our community of faith to reflect the true kingdom of God here on earth.

Prayer: Loving God, it’s easy to call upon or engage those like me, those inside the church. It is much harder to engage and love those who are not like me. Give me a willing spirit and a deeper trust in you. Go with me Holy Spirit. Amen.